Going Virtual – #3

Defining some terms!

I realized after writing #1 and #2 that there are differing uses of the terms ‘virtual’ and ‘digital’. I’d like to offer the following – even if just to help you, dear reader, interpret my posts!

Virtual:  Simulating a place or process that would otherwise be physical. 

So think of the terms ‘virtual learning’, ‘virtual world’, ‘virtual reality’, ‘virtual meeting’ or ‘virtual office’. In each case we are describing a substitute for an otherwise physical, in-place location or process enabled by physical elements.

I’m a bit of a word geek as well, and I’ll note that the root of ‘virtual’ is from the Latin terms ‘virtus’ and ‘virtualis’, which is defined as “possessing certain virtues”. I think we may agree that any of the virtual solutions we are considering should be examined for their particular pedagogical ‘virtues’!

Digital / digitization / digitalization:  The application of digital technologies to existing (analog / physical) objects, systems and processes, following a particular strategy.

I note that people writing about this have not agreed a particular term, and often use these interchangeably. I am not fussed about which term.  I am, however, quite fussed about the last piece of my definition – ‘following a particular strategy.’

I added this because far too often we see the leap to digital technologies to create virtual solutions with little or no thought as to strategy. Strategy, in my view, operates in two layers:

  • Design and Pedagogical Strategy: Are there particular technologies that fit the design specification – what the end user or participant will get most value from? What is your pedagogical strategy for achieving the stated learning outcomes, and what digital tools best fit that strategy?
  • Corporate / Organizational Strategy: Is there an imperative to reduce the carbon impact within the organization? Are there particular technologies that make strategic sense for the organization in terms of investment and application? Are there tools that have already been built, provisioned or purchased? How can we make the most out of these?

My belief is that design and pedagogical strategy should lead the way, informing corporate and organizational strategy (most often).

Going Virtual – #2

So you’ve got an idea of what you want to do – a meeting, a course, a learning experience – but you’re not sure how you will do that virtually. Do we just use a webinar and run the event that way? Do we put everything into e-learning modules? Should we just video the facilitators talking?

These questions point to a larger design question that I’ll cover soon. But the first thing you should do is assess what tools you have available, and/or what tools you want to acquire to enable virtual delivery.

The Technology Audit

For many clients, gaining approvals for digital tools is a rather lengthy process. For you, I would suggest getting in touch with your Learning and Development staff and/or IT staff to find out just what is available. Quite often education designers in large organizations don’t have a clear view of just what is already available.

For larger organizations, here are the questions I would be asking right away:

  • What digital tools and staff do we have available to create electronic content? Are there restrictions that we should be aware of (e.g. file types, file sizes, media players)?
  • What is our preferred webinar technology (e.g. Zoom, Gotomeeting, Adobe Connect, etc.)? How do we access that? Do we have staff that serve as technical hosts for those events?
  • What is the technology profile for our attendees / participants? Is there a standard ‘kit’ that everyone has? For example – laptop, mobile phone, access to an LMS or other content portal, etc.?
  • Can attendees install apps on their laptops or mobile phones? Some orgs have restrictions around this.
  • Is there an example of a really successful virtual delivery that has been done in our organization? What tools and process were used?
Participants gathered to interact with facilitators online / on a screen.

In some cases, and through the above process, I have witnessed an unusual and joyful connection being made between education designers and champions and underutilized learning technologists who are eager to help.

Using multiple experts from different locations on webcams.

And for the smaller organizations, this may be more of a question about what few tools (free or by subscription) you want to access to enable your work to continue.

For example, we recently had an event that was scheduled but could no longer accept attendees due to the guidance of the state and federal authorities. So, for this small organization, we examined what tools we had available:

  • A digital SLR camera and tripod that could shoot video
  • Mobile phones with portable charger
  • Wifi on location
  • Laptop
  • Facebook org site
  • Email / e-news letter
  • Camtasia (a multimedia / e-learning authoring tool)
  • YouTube channel

With the above tools, we designed and delivered the following:

  • Foundations: Sent an e-news email to the membership of the organization to alert them to an upcoming live-stream event on Facebook, and provided the link to the Facebook page
  • Exploration: Had a volunteer use her mobile phone (with portable charger) to live stream the event (40 min long). Used the laptop on wifi to monitor the live stream and respond to comments. Used the SLR camera to record the event for later editing.
  • Application: Used the recorded media from the SLR camera and edited / published to YouTube a video version of the event (some components of the event were for the live stream only). We used Camtasia to do some simple editing to produce the video. We then communicated the link to the video to everyone in the org – as some did not have access to Facebook.
Opening sequence from the video we put together.

You’ll notice that I’m using the Foundation, Exploration, Application language here – that is explained in another post. This is just to reinforce the idea that a good design accounts for the preparation of the attendees, the delivery of a deep-dive session, and then the support / continued learning opportunities that can follow.

So! Now you have done a technology audit to see what is available. You may, in fact, discover a burning need for something that is currently not used. More than once I have been in the position of suggesting a learning platform, webinar technology or mobile app. Whatever it is, I would strongly advise testing access to that technology with your participants before committing. Most vendors will provide some kind of test access version that you can use for that.

Consider the audit done. It’s like cooking. You have now identified what’s in the fridge and in the cupboards, or available at the local shop. You have a design in mind. Now you need to choose the right tools for the job.

That’s next.

Going Virtual – #1

I’ll cut right to it: Tons of people are now interested in shifting over to virtual delivery of their meetings and learning events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sure many have been interested for a long time, but this recent health crisis has accelerated the need for solutions – not tomorrow, but today.

I’m going to be offering some quick lessons on this from my experience. I have been an education designer for thirty years, and have been on the innovation edge of using new technologies to deliver learning experiences for a long time. If you need to know more about credentials, go for it.

In the meantime: Here is the first installment. Each of these installments is designed to be a 5 minute read, with a framework and an example.

Foundations, Exploration, Application – 3 phase design

At the very beginning, I encourage you (and your team if you have one) to ask some critical, exploratory questions that will help you tease out the topic(s) of your event.

  1. What reading material, videos, questionnaires, surveys, assessments, exercises, etc. should we have our attendees do IN ADVANCE of getting together virtually? A virtual meeting that starts with introductions of those present represents, in most cases, poor design right out of the gate. You should provide your attendees with background info for the topics at hand, and, importantly, ASK them key questions that gain their personal investment in learning more from the event you are planning. This phase is called FOUNDATIONS, because it is meant to provide foundational content and context, as well as gather important input from attendees that will make your event more meaningful for them, as well as more efficient.
  2. What topics and exercises require synchronous interaction, under the guidance of facilitators and experts? If you find yourself covering factual knowledge (lower end of Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy) during a live session, then I suspect a poor design. Please save your precious time together for those things that require togetherness. Things such as:
    • Simulations
    • Real-time problem solving
    • Team exercises / experiences
    • Converstional skills / “soft” skills practice
    • Presentations with feedback
    • Coaching

We call this EXPLORATIONS, because this is where you do deep-dives on topics, under the guidance of experts, and, importantly, practice new skills and receive feedback.

3. What activities, materials and support is needed to ensure that our attendees can apply new knowledge and skills successfully in their context? IF your event is a ‘one and done’, with no consideration of what next for the attendees, then I suspect poor design. Consider how you can link everything – from the FOUNDATIONAL content, through the EXPLORATIONS together, on to APPLICATION in the workplace or context that matters for your attendees. For example, a foundational survey might reveal particular areas of need or interest for the individuals, related to the topics at hand. During the exploratory synchronous event, you do a deep dive with an expert on that area of need, and the expert provides his or her favorite tools to use back at work. You then provide that application support by arranging a way for the attendees to access the tool, you structure learning trios for peer support, and you might even schedule a follow-up call or web meeting to have attendees report back on how things are going – lessons learned and issues faced.

The FEA model – designing for virtual / blended delivery.

Next up: Your Tech Assessment